Saturday, June 27, 2009

What exactly are we seeing in Stargate? Is it a TV show about democracy/"democratic imperialism" vs. monarchy/theocracy/old style imperialism?

I like the TV show Stargate SG1 (i think it's original run of maybe 4 seasons is over, i am catching up on many missed episodes on hulu, UPDATE: 10 seasons). On the surface level it's a fun TV show to watch to unwind after a long day - space action show, featuring McGuyver (Richard Dean Anderson) in the lead role, battling a host of baddies from far off planets. But there are some interesting/maybe not all good stuff beneath the surface, here is a brief list:

1 - The key bad guys - the gaould (don't take my spelling of their name to be the exact one, i am not that much of a stargate nerd to go research it at the moment) - use (or i should say the tv show uses) terms & mythology from ancient Egypt. But on top of that, they aren't really human - they are a snake like parasite creature who take over human bodies as hosts. So, right off the bat, elements of a non-Western culture are used to represent the evil force or one of the main evil forces in the story.

2. The good guys - the four key members of SG1 - are, in a modern social sense - multi-ethnic & international/inter-planetary (more to the point in this case), so, smart move there, deflecting any criticism or a lot of criticism related to the good guys being represented only through traditional Western images & symbols (at least from American TV & film - a group of "white" people going out to save or take over the world). One of the 4 members is an ex-warrior for the gaould - so, representing the good guys as a team that would EVEN take on a former enemy as one of their own - good idea.

3. The show is definitely a pro-military show. Actually the good guys are a part of the US Air Force (a secret unit, but a part of USAF nevertheless). The SGC (Stargate Command) is often shown to be under, ultimately, elected civilian control - so on that front all is good. HOWEVER, in the show both the government & the USAF are keeping a great secret from the general population - that the US gov is fighting an inter-planetary war with aliens - without the consent of the general population/citizens. This element of the Stargate reality is never questioned (at least I have not seen it) by sympathetic/important/good characters. The down side of this approach to things is that it assumes that a few people (few elected officials & a few in the military) know what's good for millions of their fellow citizens. Which is pretty much an anti-democratic idea. Basically the spirit of American style democracy is being subverted here & conducting secret wars for "the good of the people" using people's money & authority granted to the government is presented as generally a good thing. A very dangerous approach to the world in the real world. But, I guess this is only a TV show reality that we are talking about here :) - (or is it? :) When that type of an outlook is transplanted to the real world we have secret wars, alienation between the general population (who are being lied to by the government) & the government, forming of an elite warrior class with special privileges & access to important but secret knowledge, generally not very healthy things for a democracy. So watch out Stargate fans.

4 - The show, like Star Trek before it, is definitely a tool for spreading American values (or some American values) abroad & also reflecting same within the country. On the positive side: immigration can be cool & very helpful, teamwork & sacrifice = good, the individual is valued, blind obedience to self-proclaimed gods & religious domination of life (theocracy) is contested & fought - so on those fronts, good. Oh, also, obviously, the show is in favor of space exploration - both for gaining a military competitive edge & also for civilian purposes (medicine, history, etc.).

5. Stargate might not be entirely fiction! There are, & have been, countless secret military programs in the country (so i've heard), & if a collaboration between the US government & aliens against a common enemy were happening, it would probably be kept a secret for as long as possible - as it is in the show.

6. Both the SGC & The Gaould & other enemies travel the universe & interfere in the affairs of other worlds & people. The Gaould of course do it to enslave others & the SGC do it to liberate others. However, from the perspective of the other world people who are affected by these two alien groups, both can be seen as "imperial"/often using force to get their way in a planet that is not their home planet, and also to secure benefits of one kind or another for themselves. Both are acting out of the belief that their world view is the right one, & the other/all challengers should be defeated. No matter which side is ultimately victorious, I can see people from other planets resenting & ultimately rebelling against either.
- on the bright side, the show asks the following important questions: who do/should we (America) help, who do we ignore & leave to their own fates (even if negative), and why? Probably a very good question for people to think about.

That's it for now, some thoughts on Stargate.

- Sujewa


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